Welcome to Basilicata
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The landscape is harsh, rocky mountains, and a reflection of this fact is Matera. It is a fascinating city with an ancient atmosphere, with the original “Sassi” (Stone Houses), built within the mountains hundreds of years ago and still standing today. Actually many have been refurbished and are now very luxurious hotels. A curious piece of information: Matera is so similar to what one believes Jerusalem was like in the days of Jesus, that it was chosen to film the famous “The Passion of Christ”.
Basilicata was the poorest region in Italy until last century, and many of its inhabitants had to emigrate to other Italian regions or to foreign countries. With the discovery of oil just a few decades ago, modern day “Lucania” is changing, with new roads and highways being built, making it easier to reach, and opening it’s harsh beauty to tourists.
Much like its neighbours Molise and Campania, Basilicata does not have rich soil, and the little it does have is used to grow mainly vegetables and to graze livestock, which, as in many other southern Italian regions are sheep and pork. The results are the very strong and tasty Pecorino cheeses, which can be found in all stages, from fresh to aged. The pork is used to make the famous “luganega” a sausage that is eaten both fresh, cooked on the barbecue, or aged and eaten as a cold meat.
The “peperoncino” chili pepper is so popular that it is used in almost all dishes, especially in the Pasta condiments and in sausage.
Basilicata is not a region of sophisticated cuisine, most of the typical dishes are simple, and not made with many ingredients. The herbs, spices and wild mushrooms found in the forests flavor the pasta sauces. As an example of this simplicity, one can name the Mignuic, a pasta which looks like small cannelloni and is garnished with garlic and olive oil, or, in the fall, with wild mushrooms.
The choice of “secondi” is not difficult. Lamb stuffed and basted with rosemary, wild fennel, mint or cumin and cooked either on the spit or pan roasted so slowly, until it is so tender that it melts in your mouth.
Sweets, in olden times quite rare and only made on special occasions. They are rigorously made with natural ingredients: chestnuts and their flour, almonds, and wild fruits. Hard biscuits shaped in religious shapes for Easter, the” Chinulille” a cake made with chestnut flour in the winter, and sweet ricotta pastry for really special celebrations.
As in most Italian regions, wine is always at the table. The production in Basilicata is not extensive, being mainly red table wine, but in this small, out of the world region, one of the finest wines in Southern Italy is produced, the Aglianico del Vulture.
Surely Basilicata is not on the popular Italian itineraries, but wrongly so, because this natural unspoiled region, with mountains over 2000 meters high, with extinct Volcanoes, with its small villages high up on the hill tops, makes travelers really appreciate a time of calmness and peace as in not many other places in the world.